Unstylish Ejection From VIP Seat

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It all started with an email from our MP to the citizens’ association offering tickets to a StyleWeek event last Sunday. Gifts from politicians usually come with lots of strings attached. The exchange often goes like this: I’ll give you $5,000 wrapped up in a designer T-shirt and you’d better vote for me. Or else! But this wasn’t election season. So I took the MP’s email at face value:

“Complimentary tickets are available for FashionBlock. When: Sunday, May 28th 2017, starting at 8pm. Where: Knutsford Blvd. Please email me to let me know how many tickets you need. Thanks.” I didn’t have anything planned for that evening, so I decided to take up the offer. I was rather surprised to see on the ticket that admission was free.

A complimentary ticket is not quite the same as a free ticket. Usually, a complimentary ticket is given as a courtesy to attend a paid event. Not a free show. Getting a complimentary ticket for a free event from an MP was a lot like feeling obliged to be grateful that politicians are actually doing the job for which they are elected. And for which they are paid!

Anyhow, I put aside my reservations and headed to New Kingston. I parked at the lot at the corner of Barbados and St Lucia avenues, where some young men had a good hustle charging $200 for entry. I firmly pointed out the fact that this was a government parking lot, which should be free on a Sunday evening. They apologised, waved me in, and kept right on charging other patrons.

 

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

 

I went to the closest entrance to the Fashionblock event, at the corner of Knutsford Boulevard and Barbados Avenue. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read my complimentary ticket carefully enough. That entrance was only for VIPs. My free ticket said: “out barrier, restaurant side.” And it was standing room only.

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Now I am not one of those people whose navel string is buried under a VIP tree. But there was no other seating. And I had no intention of standing up to watch “Jamaica’s Biggest Fashion Event Ever”. By the way, that tag line reminds me of Sean Spicer’s ‘covfefe’ declaration that Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Period.

I asked if I could get a VIP ticket, and a nice young man went off to find out. He returned with a young woman who let me in and ushered me to a seat. But she didn’t give me a ticket. About half an hour later, before the show had even started, she came back and told me she was at risk of losing her job. He had broken the rules by putting me in the VIP section. So I had to go “out barrier”.

I asked if there was no one who could allow me to stay. She said no. The lady she would have to ask was not around. Earlier, Dewight Peters, who was putting on the show, had greeted me in passing. I don’t suppose the young woman thought she could ask him to give me a VIP ticket. She escorted me to the exit and I headed straight home.

This story has several morals: 1) beware of ‘freeness’ from politicians; 2) always read the fine print; 3) do not ask for and accept favours from powerless people; 4) know when to retreat; 5) always remember that where bones are not provided, dogs are not invited. In this instance: Where VIP tickets are not provided, certain people are not invited.

 

‘ARTS IN THE PARK’

 

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Earlier that day, I’d gone to Arts in the Park at Devon House. That was an excellent event for which neither a free nor a complimentary ticket was needed. It’s a pity it didn’t seem to have been well advertised. Lots of young artists were exhibiting their work and there was live music. A small exhibition from the JCDC art competition is at one of the shops. The main show is located at the Jamaica Conference Centre.

The National Gallery hosted a panel discussion on the Jamaica Biennial 2017, which closed that day in Kingston. The exhibition at Gallery West in MoBay goes on for another month. A very contentious issue came up. VIP artists are invited to exhibit. Less-important artists have to submit their work for evaluation. If they’re lucky, they get picked. Hopefully, this unfair system will soon be phased out. All artists should have an equal chance to be accepted or rejected.

From Devon House, I went to The Pantry on Dumfries Road, where the artists Philip and Marcia Henry were hosting ‘The Gathering’, an exhibition featuring masters like Alexander Cooper, George Rodney and Ireko Baker, as well as many younger artists. Philip’s Ambokele Vibration drummers and guest artists were in full flight. It was a beautiful marriage of art and music.

There is so much creative energy in Kingston: music, art, literature, fashion and a whole lot more! Last Monday, Jamaica’s first Centre of Gastronomy was launched at Devon House. This Friday, Caribbean Fashionweek starts at Villa Ronai in Stony Hill. With its lush sculpture gardens, the venue was a premier destination for cruise ship passengers coming into Kingston Harbour in the 1960s. In spite of our social and economic challenges, Kingston is a capital city. And not just for VIPs!

Culture clash at Bath Fountain

When chik-V attacked me last September, I started going to the Rockfort Mineral Bath every week. The water was therapeutic, but it wasn’t warm. I kept thinking I really should go to Bath Fountain where the water is extremely hot. But it was a long drive away. So I just settled for Rockfort.

On one visit, I met a woman who told me an amusing story about her experience at Bath. She had gone with a group of friends and, as soon as they arrived, they were swarmed by a large number of aggressive guides, eager to take them to the fountain.

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She did wonder about the chaotic approach, especially since she thought there was an established hotel at Bath. Anyhow, her group trustingly set off over a bridge and along a narrow path up the hillside. It seemed quite precarious, but she decided to go with the flow.

They continued up and then down to a stream, which was not what she expected. At this point, I said, “Then you didn’t ask where the hotel was?” We both laughed. Anyhow, as I remember it, she and her friends had the full spa treatment: mud pack, massage and water therapy. They hadn’t negotiated a fee for the service and it was at the time of payment that she realised her mistake.

She was given an exorbitant bill, perhaps because she’s white. She cuss some breed of Jamaican bad word and the price came down rapidly. Her guides had assumed she was a foreigner and would pay the tourist rate. She certainly set them straight.

BATHING IN MONEY

There was a time when Bath Fountain was a major international attraction. It still gets a fair number of foreign visitors, but not on the scale that it should. The people of St Thomas could be bathing in money if this natural resource could be developed to its full potential.

According to oral history, it was a runaway from plantation slavery, known only as Jacob, who discovered the healing fountain. He had been suffering from sores on his legs and, after soaking his body regularly in the water, he was cured. Foolishly or not, he told his ‘master’, Colonel Stanton, about the magical water.

Bath-Fountain-plaqueIn 1699, Stanton sold the property on which the spring was located to the colonial government. More than a thousand acres! By the early 18th century, the healing waters attracted major private-sector investment. Wealthy patrons built homes nearby and the village of Bath was soon established. A hospital, lodging house and billiard-room catered to the elite who visited the fountain.

Ironically, this wealthy resort sprang up because of a runaway. I don’t know if Jacob was ever rewarded for sharing his knowledge. And, in a sense, the class divide between Jacob and the elite patrons of the fountain in the early years is evident in the culture clash today between the informal guides and the official operators of the government-owned fountain.

UNCONSCIONABLE GUIDES

Two Sundays ago, I went to Bath. And, yes, I did go into the hotel. But I had the usual experience in the public parking lot. Before I could get out of the car, the guides descended. One of them even followed me into the hotel’s parking lot, offering his services.

It seems as if these unconscionable guides do not want anybody to visit the hotel. They waylay patrons and try to spirit them away. Close to the police station in Bath, which is still a little distance from the hotel, a woman who said she worked at the fountain offered her services. I doubt she’s really a hotel employee. And from as far away as Port Maria, informal tour operators have the system locked.

e_29The hotel’s general manager, Mr Desmond Blair, has been desperately trying to find a way to peacefully coexist with the informal guides. There are about 40 of them, and he knows they make a decent living. He doesn’t want to box bread out of anybody’s mouth.

And some visitors do like the outdoor experience. I’ve been to the stream and it does have a vibe. But you have to be careful about unskilled masseurs. A woman called the hotel complaining about back pain. She had done a hot-stone treatment and got quite a hot blow from a stone. Of course, all Mr Blair could tell her was that she had done the massage at her own risk. And she wasn’t even a hotel guest.

SHORT-TERM BENEFITS

Water-ChemicalI thoroughly enjoyed the hot water in the wide, deep private bath in the hotel. Some poor patrons don’t even know about this option. They don’t get a chance to choose. And the price of the bath is really quite reasonable. It’s only $500 for 20 minutes in the potent water.

What Mr Blair is proposing is that there should be two quite separate attractions, the hotel and the stream. About half a mile below the present hotel entrance, a bridge could be built across the river, creating a route directly down to the stream. Tour guides would be given training and licensed to do business.

The informal operators are not likely to agree to this system. They wouldn’t be able to capture patrons going to the hotel. It’s the same old story: a clash between short-term benefits and long-term development. We need a bath to heal this dysfunctional culture.

Signs Of The Times: #Mosquitofidead

imagesFor the first time in more than 30 years, my sister, Donnette, didn’t come home for Christmas. I’m not amused. Like the wise men from the East, she always comes bearing gifts. These are not last-minute, hit-or-miss purchases. You know the obligatory gifts that nobody actually wants.

Many of my sister’s gifts are handmade. She’s a multimedia artist, masquerading as an attorney. Some of her gifts are exquisite thrift-shop finds. She has mastered the art of hunting for treasure in unlikely places. When I go thrift-shopping with her, I wander aimlessly around the store. All I can see is junk.

After a few minutes of idleness, I feel obliged to ‘find’ something. I usually do very well with books. I like hardbacks and you can find lots of them in very good condition. Americans no longer seem to read books much. And I might pick up a barely-used designer handbag which looks like a bargain at $30. And so it goes.

Then my sister comes and inspects my cart. She imperiously tells me to put back practically everything. The handbag is much too expensive. It will be on half-price sale in a couple of days. And if it’s gone, there’ll always be another one. On rare occasions, she actually approves of one or two of my selections. And I feel relieved. My thrift-shop game is improving.

DIE-HARD JAMAICANS

Thanks to chik-V, my Christmas gifts are languishing up north. Like many other Jamaicans I know, my sister decided it wasn’t worth the risk of infection to come home this year. I can think of at least 35 confirmed cases of the ‘no chik-V Christmas for me’ syndrome. Yes, Dr. Ferguson, we all know that 35 is the magic number.

costbenefitscaleThese fearful souls are die-hard Jamaicans who come home every single year. Sometimes, more than once. After hearing so many chik-V horror stories, able-bodied yardies a foreign did a careful cost-benefit analysis of their holiday options. Stay in the cold, far from those nasty mosquitoes; or come to the warmth of family and friends – and risk a deadly bite. The sensible ones stayed put.

I wonder if Dr Ferguson was thinking about Jamaicans abroad when he tried to hide the truth about the spread of chik-V from tourists. If the Ministry of Health had heeded the early warnings about the threat of the virus, we might have protected that sure tourist market of Jamaicans who come home often. Not to mention all those of us here who have suffered so terribly.

One year, my sister came for Christmas and got dengue. It was not pretty. So I completely understand why she decided not to come this time. She went to Florida instead. I reminded her that chik-V is there. And I promised to dead wid laugh if she got foreign chik-V.

DYING FROM CHIK-V

I really admire those hard-core Jamaicans who decided to brave the mosquitoes. Nothing can keep them away from home. They will always take their chances with us. And if chik-V is going to become endemic in the Caribbean, as the experts say, we’re just going to have to learn to live with it or die from it.

images-1On Christmas Eve, I called the Ministry of Health to get the current estimate of deaths that might have resulted from chik-V. Admittedly, this is not a cheery holiday topic. But unlike so many of our politicians, I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss. We might as well know the truth, however unpleasant.

I wasn’t able to get any figures out of the Ministry. The story goes something like this: We haven’t been able to confirm all the cases that look like chik-V. So we can’t know for sure how many deaths are chik-V-related. The Ministry of Health is still in denial.

I was told to visit the website of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). I couldn’t easily see an answer to my question. I did find a Gleaner article by Anastasia Cunningham, published on October 4, 2014: “113 Suspected Chik-V-Related Deaths in Region”. According to that report, “Jamaica has recorded at least two deaths suspected to be related to the virus, which has a fatality rate of less than one per cent.”

WHO CARES?

With apologies to Elvis Presley, all I can say is:

Every time you give me figures I’m still not certain that they’re true

Every time you talk to me I’m still not certain that you care

Though you keep on saying we haven’t confirmed the chik-V cases

Do you speak the same words to someone else when I’m not there?

Suspicion torments my heart

Suspicion keeps us apart

Suspicion why torture me?

DV1012H_ackee-and-saltfish_s4x3On Christmas morning, I got this gloating email from my sister: “Ackee and salt fish ready. Mackerel run down running down. ‘Food’ cook and breadfruit and plantain frying”. She’s obviously at home. I don’t even have Christmas cake. My friend, Kemorine, who always gives me one of hers, didn’t bake this year. Her hands weren’t up to it. Yes, chik-V.

Two Sundays ago, I bought a tee shirt, designed by a Jamaican living in Florida. On the front, there’s the now-familiar image of a chicken with a gun and the words, “Chik-V Warrior”. On the back, there’s a clear sign of the times: “#mosquitofidead”. Fi true. Mosquito mash up mi Christmas!

Who Owns Jamaica’s Beaches?

UnknownEaston Douglas once took up a very big job that’s still not finished. I suppose it was much harder than chairing the board of the National Housing Trust. A board of ‘yes’ men and women makes things really easy for a chairman. This is particularly true if it’s a ‘bagasse’ board, accountable to no one.

As minister of environment and housing, Easton Douglas announced in 1995 that the Government had started to develop a policy for controlling access to Jamaica’s beaches. Nothing much has come of this promise after almost two decades. We are still stuck with a 1956 Beach Control Act.

According to that pre-Independence law, the Queen of England owns our beaches: “all rights in and over the foreshore of this Island and the floor of the sea are hereby declared to be vested in the Crown”. But even that outdated act does acknowledge the fact that the rights of the public have to be protected against selfish private-sector interests.

images-1Hotel owners, for example, can apply for a licence to operate ‘private’ beaches. But the act makes it absolutely clear that “licence shall not be granted under this section unless the Authority has certified that the issue of the licence is not likely to conflict with the public interest in regard to fishing, bathing, recreation or the protection of the environment”.

Now this ‘Authority’ is the very same Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) that appears to have given its stamp of approval to the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) to sell off protected public lands on Long Mountain to private developers. So I really don’t have much faith in the capacity of the NRCA to protect the public interest.

CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

Two Sundays ago, I watched that episode of Anthony Bourdain’s travel series, ‘Parts Unknown’, which focused on Jamaica. Avoiding the well-known all-inclusive hotels in and around MoBay, Bourdain turned to Portland, where Jamaica’s upscale tourist industry started. And he didn’t paint the usual portrait of the island as ‘paradise’. He got it right.

Bourdain documents the sharp lines of division in our society. The programme wasn’t aired on CNN in Jamaica. Conspiracy theorists immediately came up with a wicked explanation. It was because Flow is owned by Michael Lee-Chin. He came off so badly in the show that he stopped the company from airing it.

When I checked with Flow, I learned that CNN sends targeted feeds to different markets. We get the Latin American and Caribbean feed. Bourdain’s show is not on our feed. It’s now on Vimeo.com.

Hopefully, either TVJ or CVM will negotiate the rights to air the episode. We all need to see it. It’s not a pretty picture of our country. The landscape is beautiful and the food is appetising. But the disparity between the rich and poor is rather ugly.

‘WHAT KIND OF PERSON”?

Perhaps Michael Lee-Chin should have been much more cautious about exposing himself to Bourdain. This is how Bourdain introduces him: “There are those who believe that the area can come back; that it must come back. That the future is in hotels and resorts and restaurants for wealthy visitors as it once was.

trident-castle“Take this place, for instance: the Trident hotel. Expensive, luxurious! Best of all, I’m the only guest. Oh, did I mention that it comes with a castle? What kind of person would own a building like that? Who? Why? Then this man arrived and kind of answered that question. All of this belongs to Michael Lee-Chin. Local boy-turned-billionaire. One of the richest men in the world. And my host. He’s invited me for dinner.”

With guests like Bourdain, you don’t need gatecrashers. Down the road at GoldenEye, St Mary, Chris Blackwell, another host, gets the full Bourdain treatment. It’s a case of show me your friends. This is how Bourdain puts it: “When Blackwell heard I wanted to visit the local fishermen, he hooked me up with his good friend, Carl, to accompany me.”

Apparently forgetting that this wasn’t a B movie, Carl Bradshaw acts quite ugly. One of the insistent fishermen tries to tell the truth as he sees it. Blackwell’s ‘development’ plan for Oracabessa will create major problems: “This going belong to di tourist. . . . ┬áThe native here don’t have no beach in a few months time.”

“JUST STOP BOMBO KLAAT TALK!”

Bradshaw menacingly responds, “Wi no care ’bout truth, man. Wi kill people fi truth, man.” And he shouts down the middle-aged fisherman, “Yute, yute, just stop talk! Mi seh just stop bombo klaat talk!” Bradshaw forces the fisherman out of the interview. And then descends into a pseudo-philosophical rant on “tolerance”!

The star of Bourdain’s show is Cynthia who, with her partner Dennis, runs a cookshop on Winnifred Beach in Portland. It’s the only public beach for miles. The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) tried to capture the beach for private use, promising that the public would still have access. Cynthia’s response is completely understandable: “We don’t trust them. So we do not believe what they say.”

The Free Winnifred Benevolent Society took UDC to court. Last month, before Bourdain’s travel show aired, they won the case. Their heroism is a part of Jamaican culture we definitely know. The barbed-wire fences that block public access to so many beaches around the island must be torn down. With no regard for Missis Queen and her untrustworthy deputies, we must claim the right to sovereignty over our own beaches.

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